[Warning: If you are interested in a calm, comfortable life, this blog will be counterproductive for you.]

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Greatest Historical Figure I Never Knew About - William Wilberforce Biography (book review)

On a one to five scale I would give this book six stars. William Wilberforce was probably the most effective world changer in a time of famous world changers (his contemporaries include Napoleon and John Wesley). But somehow we've lost sight of his impact. He was so effective in changing how the western world thinks that it feels non-radical to mention what he did. Or as the author puts it, he led our culture so far around the corner we can’t see back to where we used to be.

I certainly had no idea how different the world was before him or how much he did to change the world.

Before his time, there was no common understanding that those with power and wealth should help those who had neither. Today, we argue about how best to do that, but it is assumed as the proper goal. It was literally directly due to his influence the England (the largest world empire in history) and then the rest of the world changed. As a young man, he formally declared reforming culture to be his lifelong purpose, a “great object, set before him by God”. He then set about to use his considerable wealth, position in Parliament, communication abilities, and passion to change the world.

He connected with likeminded men and women, forming a community, literally living next door to each other for many years. Over the following decades, they launched hundreds of “societies” (their version of non-profit organizations) to promote many, many causes. They wrote letters, started the first successful national petition movement in England, presented bills in Parliament, and worked and worked and worked.

Their single greatest project in this large portfolio of change was the abolition of slavery. Slavery has been a tragic fact of human history as far back as we have historical information. From Asia to Eastern Europe to South America, every time an empire rose to power they enslaved the neighboring people. (The word “slave” comes from the word “Slav”—literally a slavic person from Eastern Europe—from when Europeans enslaved each other. Chinese, Korean, and Japanese empires all enslaved each other. Incans and Aztecs…the list covers all of human history.) While the European enslavement of Africans was horrific and evil, what we have a hard time realizing is that it was considered normal by the entire world. It was even praised and encouraged by the Church of England.

William Wilberforce directly (and in his time, famously) led his nation to abolish slavery—while they were still in power and profiting from it. This is the first time in human history that a nation in power did so. And then he convinced the remaining world leaders, from Russia to France to Spain, to end their slave trades.

The journey he went on, with victories and vicious attacks on him (some even physically), is fascinating to read. But for those who want to change the world (like me) the methods he and his friends used are thought provoking. 

And this book offered more than solid facts. It was written so well that I was pulled into his world and his life. I laughed out and even teared up a few times (I was in the airport, waiting for my flight one of those times—totally awkward.)

The life of William Wilberforce inspired me, instructed me, and impacted me deeply. I highly recommend this book.

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